Friday, May 01, 2009

Escape From Bellevue and Other Stories... my review

A friend of mine from High School wrote a book.
Now, everyone's friend, uncle, dog and cat lately are getting book deals. Not sure how the publication industry is "dying" the death it is when I personally bought four memoirs of people I either have been reading for a while (Rob @ Schuyler's Monster) or I know personally.
In this case, the book is by Christopher Campion, and it is called "Escape From Bellevue, A Dive Bar Odyssey."
I enjoyed it so much I actually took the time to review it for, and what is extra frightening is I actually think my review itself is one of the better things I've written in my life.
I would encourage anyone to go read this book, whether or not they give a damn about an alcoholic out of control lead singer of an indie rock band, or the underground music scene in NYC during the late 80s/and most of the 90s... But simply because I'm nothing more than a pimp for all my friends, yo.
And I've got my boy Chrissy's back. After all he's been through, my brother Huntingtonian can use some serious love.
Here's my review:
Growing up a fellow Huntingtonian from a "Livers with Feet" family, I found Chris Campion's Icarian tale very compelling. Unlike Icarus, who was presumed drowned at sea, Mr. Campion gets the chance to swim to a metaphorical shore and fly again. And crash again, swim to shore. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Campion asks you to grab hold tightly to his pinstripe jacketed coattails as he runs roughshod (drunk, stoned and high) through Huntington's Stinky Corner, to Vanillanova, to the bright lights of the Bowery Ballroom, and then unfortunately the smelly gutter behind it.

With the gift of gab as if he'd been lowered by the ankles at birth to kiss our shared Motherland's famous Blarney Stone, Campion is "that guy" at the end of the bar in Finnegan's (actually, more like The Valencia); full of stories, full of adventures, full of booze and full of crap. He sets up hilarious vignette after unbelievable vignette, from high school garage band insanity, to a sister rising to his defense with a dairy-laden baked potato in hand, to coked-up rodeo clowns (seriously), to the straight jacket ... and then back to off-Broadway success. You almost get a "Malcolm in the Middle" feel as he sets things up for you, dear reader, and turns to the invisible camera addressing just you, to let you know in that same Frankie Muniz kind of way, "this is where it gets REALLY weird."

"Escape from Bellevue" is more than your standard Mr. Mackey "Drugs are bad, m'kay?" tale of rockstar self- and over-indulgence. This is the tale of a young man's complete loss of faith, not simply in himself but in his God. Combine that kind of existential crisis with a lifestyle fueled by substances not naturally found in the human body, and you get a rather volatile anti-hero of whom the Irish Poets would all be proud.

My only criticism of the book is that it is written too colloquially, with too many "oughta" "kinda" and other slangy words and terms used, and I found it distracting at times. It works at the end of the bar, but in a novel or memoirs, that sort of writing should be tidied up a bit. Campion confesses he has never thought of himself as a writer, but rather a songwriter... but this would have been the perfect spot for an editor clean up sloppy, easy writing and make it the work of a real "writer." Because Campion, whether he likes it or not, is a writer.

To take a famous quote entirely out of context "God watches out for little children, fools, drunks..." and at most times through this book your humble narrator is all three of those things simultaneously, keeping God quite busy. Whether or not Christopher John Campion finds that relationship with God again, I'll leave it to you to find out by reading the book. But as I finished the story late one night, the following morning I only had to laugh and thank Him that Chris survived to these days to tell his tales. I hope you'll pick up this book and feel the same.
Chris and I actually discussed at length my one "fault" that I found in the book. He said he wanted it to sound like he was talking, telling the story. He didn't want it edited down to take out the "am I right?" "ya know..." and other things one says when one is storytelling. His editors desperately tried to get him to change that... and he said it lost the humor, the story telling, the edge, and sounded too antiseptic.
I told him that it is really easy to make a narrative sound like it is still a storytelling piece by editing it up a bit. Really make it a story, instead of a very long anecdotal episode.
We agreed to disagree. And it was a beautiful discussion.
Also, I confessed to him that until I was 30 I didn't know there was a lighthouse in Huntington Harbor. I'd never heard of it, never seen it. In the book he outlines a very specific adventure he took out there the night before a family intervention with his father for his da's drinking problem when he was about 15. His Huntington was very different from my Huntington. We spent the better part of two hours going back and forth with emails, and it felt sooooo good to talk to an old friend, who is still the same, but different. And I mean it when I say I thank God he survived his darkest times. The would would be a less fun place without Chris Campion. I truly believe that. 

So go buy it on my recommendation. It might make you cry. It will make you laugh, and you'll say "there is NO way that happened." If you know anyone who is or was an addict, you'll totally get the story, the events, the reality of it all. If you're in a band, you'll totally understand Chris and his dreams. And if you come from a family of "livers with feet" you'll REALLY get it. And if none of the above... hell, just go buy the damn book. Thanks.
If I can help it, Chris and his band The Knockout Drops will hopefully come to Boston and do their off-Broadway show (which came before the book, and the book is based upon the show...) up here. We need the Drops! 

Anyway -- I will have the laptop with me on this trip (again, never ending thanks to you Linda and Ronniw! and that misspelling is intentional, don't worry!) I will try and blog something. Maybe. I know I'll have pictures. And I wonder if the same cookie monster blue seat covers will be on the chairs at the graveside service. Hmmmm. 

More later, vicious freaks.

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